Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman has issued an order mandating that masks be worn in all Orange County schools upon returning to school during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Gelman’s order is pursuant to New York State Public Health Law, Section 2100 and requires all public, private and Charter K-12 schools and educational facilities as well as public and private transportation services providing transportation to and from school.
‘The best way to prevent closing schools’
A copy of Dr. Gelman’s Order is online at orangecountygov.com/1936/ Coronavirus.
“From a communicable disease perspective, the best way to prevent closing schools again is to prevent COVID-19 cases in our schools, and in our community, by keeping prevalence low,” Gelman said. “That can be accomplished by wearing masks, socially distancing, staying home if we are sick and seeing a doctor.
“As schools reopen and we encounter cases in schools,” she added, “we plan to evaluate every situation closely, balancing the desire to keep schools open safely while protecting public health.”
Gelman advised that effective immediately any individual over age two, and able to medically tolerate a face-covering, is required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face covering when in a congregate school setting in Orange County. This applies to all public and private school buses and public, private, and charter schools.
Acceptable face masks or acceptable face coverings must be worn by all those in school buildings and on all school buses, either public or private including students, faculty, staff, and visitors at all times except for meals, and other than for designated mask breaks unless otherwise medically inadvisable as certified by a student’s or employee’s or visitor’s physician.
‘Logical to take this basic step to protect each other’
According to the county health commissioner, the use of masks or cloth face coverings in congregate settings is to be in addition to other control measures, including engineering controls such as implementing social distance practices and physical partitions or barriers; environmental controls such as proper ventilation and administrative controls, such as frequent cleaning and disinfection protocols, as per the district/school safety plan.
“As Orange County’s Health Commissioner and as a parent myself, I place a high value on public education, as well as public safety and health,” Gelman said. “The majority of COVID-19 cases continue to be in the 18-44 age category. Bus rides and classrooms are more congregate settings than the general guidelines consider. As a result, while unintentional, there is a greater likelihood of communicable disease transmission. A scientifically based, steadfast, measured approach is what it will take to remain open. It is logical to take this basic step to protect each other.”
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has previously called for a statewide order requiring masks in schools.
“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of students and educators,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “Making masks mandatory at all times is a critical step toward helping address the reservations that still exist regarding reopening school buildings. We applaud Orange County for taking this critical step and call on the state to do the same.”